Gilman, McDonogh serve up area's toughest teams again; Both return top 2 players; Pikesville boasts depth; Tennis preview


March's lion-like weather has delayed training and ladder play for city and Baltimore County tennis players, but ready or not, a new season is here.

Among private schools, Gilman, which broke McDonogh's string of six straight Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference titles at the end of last season, is loaded again. So is McDonogh. Both teams have their top two players back.

The boat won't rock much in Baltimore County, where no coach foresees Pikesville, despite a notable absence, as being unable to compete hard for its 29th county team title in 31 years. Also, bad news, county girls: Randallstown's Harvey sisters are back.

City public schools competition boils down again to everyone trying to catch Poly, which is shooting for its fifth straight regional title.

A closer look at each league:

MIAA A Conference: Teams from the boys and coeducational private schools (the girls schools played last fall) will compete with a new league rule that could make some team matches more competitive. No longer can MIAA coaches assign singles players, their best, to doubles duty as well. A team match now will comprise three singles and two doubles pairings.

"It means seven players are important, not five, as in the past," said veteran McDonogh coach Laddie Levy. "But it also means doubles are important again."

For sure, matches will be shorter, with all players starting at once instead of doubles being delayed until singles finish.

At Gilman, Jim Busick, last season's Coach of the Year who is now in his 20th season, will start senior Matt Peters at No. 1 singles and Cockeysville junior Amir Zamani, the sixth-ranked Maryland under-16 boy, at No. 2 singles, same as last spring.

Busick is counting on good things from sophomore Mike Fisher and Justin Rofel, a freshman from Timonium who is 18th among Maryland under-16 boys.

McDonogh enters this season with a 123-3 record in Maryland Scholastic Association/MIAA play since 1987 -- with two of the losses to Gilman.

"I go in confident that our first Gilman match will be interesting to watch, and we get them early," said McDonogh's Levy, whose players remember the 4-2 upset that gave Gilman last spring's title. Counting last spring's National Prep School championships, which the Eagles hosted but didn't win, they went 17-5 overall, an unusually high number of losses, albeit all to standout teams.

Same as last spring, Levy will send out as No. 1 singles player Columbian Chris Chieu, a Co-Player of the Year last spring. Westminster's Zach Myers, seventh among Mid-Atlantic under-18 boys, will play No. 2. Both are seniors. At No. 3 singles will be Nithan Jayadeva, in Levy's words "a very impressive" freshman. Levy expects his top doubles unit to be senior Eric Ottenheimer and sophomore Steve Hallock.

Park, as was the case last season, could be a spoiler in that its top singles player, Andy Kolker, seventh among Maryland's under-18 boys and last spring's other Co-Player of the Year, won the MIAA's individual championship. But depth could be a problem.

MIAA B Conference: Archbishop Curley will be going for its third consecutive undefeated season, led by seniors Chad Kardian, Brandon Scarfield and Jon Brunt. Curley coach Mark Potter expects tough competition from Archbishop Spalding.

Baltimore County: Coaches are abuzz about two of the metro area's best players opting out of high school-level competition. They are Pikesville's Gary Diamond, the 11th-ranked Maryland under-18 boy and a two-time county singles champ, and Dulaney's Claudia Farace, who as a freshman last spring was county runner-up in girls singles. She is seventh among Maryland under-16 girls.

Even so, what's new at Pikesville, besides Diamond, is names. As new coach Jerry Dresner notes: "There's a tradition of excellence here."

Sophomore Dana Dolvin, who played No. 2 singles last spring, is the new No. 1. Vitaly Ostrowsky, a senior, seems likely to be No. 2. Junior Jeff Bloom and senior Matt Levinson will defend their county boys doubles title. Pikesville's girls were still sorting themselves out, but Dresner is confident no matter which junior wins No. 1, Erica Hirshfeld or Natalie Diamond (unrelated to Gary). Senior Danielle Gordon and junior Samatha Waranch were among several battling for the doubles slots.

At Randallstown, coach Steve Strzemienski can pretty much count on getting three points from his girls going into any match. State singles champion Leslie Harvey, a senior, 18th-ranked Mid-Atlantic girl and last spring's Girls Player of the Year, and her sister, Elizabeth, a junior who is second in Maryland among under-16 girls, are still Nos. 1 and 2. Both went undefeated last spring until the county tournament, when big sister again beat little sister.

"They basically steam-roller the competition during the regular season," said Strzemienski, whose girls doubles team will include Niema Trader, a senior who would be No. 1 on many other teams.

At Dulaney, usually a Central Division threat to Pikesville, veteran coach Pat Heil will use senior Melissa Harold and junior Laura Vanveen at girls singles, backed by junior Melody Sheih, the county badminton champion. Seniors Adam Derrer and Alex Obaza will lead the boys.

Perry Hall coach Ed Dick has two outstanding girls back who combined for last spring's region doubles crown. But in singles, they've flip-flopped. Rapidly improving junior Laura Edmonds is now No. 1 and senior Lily Ubillus No. 2. With his boys needing experience, Dick said duplicating last spring's 9-3 finish would be nice.

Franklin, 13-0 in the county's Western Division last spring, should be formidable again. Coach Warren White, in his 18th season, says depth that lets him go seven or eight players deep is his team's strength. Seniors Paula Yellon, Rachel Abelow and Adam Eisenberg and junior Jeremy Friedman are his likely singles players.

Baltimore City: Poly is 44-3 in team play over the last four seasons under coach Preston Jackson, who will use seniors Tal Davidson and Ryan Goldschmitt in boys singles, and junior Kim Harrison and sophomore Katrina Paglia, pushed by sophomore Diana Geroso, in girls singles.

At Patterson, often a contender, coach Donna Bowers must rebuild the girls squad but has solid boys in Eric Braun, a junior, and his senior brother William, and junior Kennard Wheeler.

Lake Clifton and Southwestern, a surprise last spring, could be team-play challengers.

Pub Date: 3/24/99

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